I grew up in the suburbs of Southern California. My parents took ever chance they could to either take the camper to the beach so my dad could fish off a pier or drive out of town to spend the week at a campground. As kids we loved either place. We had lots to explore, adventures to create and the freedom to play in those amazing settings. One thing we especially loved was dinner. My dad was a meat and potatoes kind of guy, but when we camped we had spaghetti for dinner. We all loved mom’s spaghetti.
One day as we were riding our bikes around a campsite we noticed a big bus was parked near the entrance to the campground. I can’t remember exactly how but somehow we found out that the bus was having some kind of mechanical problem and the passengers would be stranded there for a bit.
We rode back to the camper, crammed ourselves around the small table and started talking about the stranded bus. To our horror, mom said we need to go over and see if they were hungry. My mom wanted to share our spaghetti dinner with an entire bus full of people! Dad pointed out the obvious, we certainly didn’t have enough. However, mom could usually sway dad. So, we watched the discussion between the two of them with a certain amount of trepidation. The moments seem to stretch out. Mom stated that we could at least give everyone a bite. We knew she was serious. We knew that she would have us all go over there and offer any assistance we could. In a rare moment my dad won the day. What a relief!
Of all the spaghetti meals I had or would eat around that camper table this is the only one I clearly remember. I don’t remember anyone talking through the dinner. For the first time, the spaghetti didn’t taste good at all. We had felt such a great moment of relief when my dad firmly put his foot down and yet seconds later the reality of filling our stomachs while others were going without hit us.
My parents strengths were not in sharing or hearing emotions. So, we didn’t talk about the anxiety clearly visible on my mom’s face. The silence that enveloped us as she quietly sat with an empty plate and then more silence as she cleaned up after us was painful. I suppose we each had to sort through what had happened the best way we could. I can remember not wanting to get on my bike to soak in the last few rays of sunshine because I was worried I would see one of the stranded passengers.
All these years later, I still get emotional thinking about that spaghetti dinner. The unexpected and certainly the unwanted lesson I learned that day is that it doesn’t feel good to be uncharitable. It feels terrible. It doesn’t feel good to dissuade someone from being charitable. It feels terrible. Because of that unexpected lesson, I have also learned that, in large part because of my parents, I am a charitable person that looks to help where I can. In the most unexpected way I can now see that the lesson was so impactful because it taught me more about who I was striving to be rather than who I was in that moment. I know that my true self is compassionate, kind and charitable. Getting to that knowledge has been painful at times and at times joyful and everything in between.
I would love to hear about an unexpected lesson you have in your memory. Maybe a lesson that helps you define your true self in an unexpected way. If you would like to share you can reach out to me at [email protected]